Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Greater Power

When we think of power, we think of force. We believe in power to change circumstances and people. We think of power as some overwhelming force that cannot be withstood, and which alters the course of things whether for good or for ill.

Often we associate anger with power; that the motivating energy of anger results in power to promote change. Certainly anger can push a person toward acting where perhaps they had not acted before, creating motivation to change circumstances that need addressing. A person may become outraged by some injustice in a society or ongoing destructive behavior in a loved one and finally act in an interventionist way for change. It took a tipping point of positively motivated anger to finally act.

Often, I would say usually, anger is destructive, caustic and damages more than helps. The most regretful things we will ever say, words we wish we could pull back, are words blurted out in a fit of anger. If anger is our habit, then a life long tendency toward angry outbursts over time corrodes relationships, scarring and pitting them into a gross misrepresentation of what they should be. When we are angry we become irrational. We say things and act in ways that in more lucid moments we would never consider.

The difference between anger that can lead ultimately to healing and anger that destroys is what the motivation is behind the anger and also if the anger is managed, controlled and channeled in a constructive way. If the anger is fueled by care and compassion for another and if it is not allowed to become an all consuming fire, then the anger has a chance to be channeled for good. If the anger emanates from selfish motivation or other ill motives, it will prove destructive.

If, in the daily give and take of relationships, my anger toward another is because they have inconvenienced me, or they have shown disrespect toward me, or because they will not conform to my desires that benefit me, then my self centered anger alienates the other person because they know that only my own self interest is at stake. But if my anger is clearly directed toward their betterment, or toward the betterment of others, and if my anger is managed and under control, not a raging wildfire, then even if the person who is the focus of my anger doesn't grasp that yet, in time they may change.

Throughout Scripture God expresses anger toward His people. I have often been tempted to think that God had an anger management problem in OT times, but in reality His anger toward His people was provoked by His burning and passionate love for them and their recalcitrant disregard for relationship with the Living God who called them to Himself. He gave them commandments for their benefit, yet they repeatedly strayed from them, to their own destruction, wounding the heart of the God who loved them.

Yet ultimately God expressed a greater force for change than anger. Neither God nor we can ever bring about change in another through anger alone, nor through discipline alone. Our love and compassion must reign supreme. Paul tells us in Romans that "God demonstrates His own love for us, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."-Rom. 5:8 Yes, our sin and alienation from God causes justifiable anger in God. But His compassionate love for us, that we are mired in flesh that is bent away from Him, motivated Him to to rescue us from our desperate condition. It is not His anger that transforms us, but His compassion. Paul also tells us in Romans that it is God's kindness toward us that calls us to repentance.

Jeremiah says,"'but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,'declares the Lord"-Jeremiah 9:24. God's nature calls for justice to be carried out for sin. Yet his lovingkindness and compassion provided a way for us to be saved.

It is the greater power of compassion, of self sacrificial love, that provides the power to transform, not anger.

Anger, even when justified, should be rare and under control. One of the marks of maturity is a cool head in provoking circumstances. We must calm the rising storm within. Let our words and deeds be loving, even when we are nettled. James tells us that "the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God"-James 1:20. There is no place in our lives for selfishly motivated anger. Even justifiable anger should be a remarkable change in our demeanor, not a common trait. Frequent anger becomes ineffectual through familiarity: the person who has seen it often will learn to ride out the storm, knowing the tempest will pass and things will continue on as usual.

We are called to be imitators of God, and as such, we should discipline anger into submission, not allowing it to become our fearful master, but instead allowing a compassionate love to be the transforming power with our own lives and which we also use to minister to the needs of others. See the other person not through the lens of how their actions affect or benefit us. Rather see them through the eyes of a compassionate God who loves them...and us...and seeks their good and ours for growth and good.

That is true power, the greater power that changes lives and the advances the good news of the Kingdom of God.